The Many Strains of Wuhan Coronavirus

The Deadly Chimeric Virus Has Many Strains

The origins of the Wuhan Coronavirus are wreathed in mystery. There are some who may wish the mystery is never solved.

Someone manufacturing a virus targeting people would have started with one that attacked humans, wrote National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins… __ USA Today

But scientific labs across the western world are now on the trail, and will not rest until they get some answers. By tracking genetic mutations in the virus, they can trace individual outbreaks to help snuff them out.

It’s like a wildfire, Chiu said. A few sparks might fly off the fire and land in the grass and start new fires. But if the main fire is doused and its embers stomped out, you can kill off an entire strain. In California, Chiu sees a lot of sparks hitting the ground, most coming from Washington, but they’re quickly being put out.

… “The outbreaks are trackable. We have the ability to do genomic sequencing almost in real-time to see what strains or lineages are circulating,” he said. __ Source

The SARS-CoV-2 virus first began causing illness in China sometime between mid-November and mid-December. Its genome is made up of about 30,000 base pairs. Humans, by comparison, have more than 3 billion. So far even in the virus’s most divergent strains scientists have found only 11 base pair changes.

That makes it easy to spot new lineages as they evolve, said Chiu.

… So far, most cases on the U.S. West Coast are linked to a strain first identified in Washington state. It may have come from a man who had been in Wuhan, China, the virus’ epicenter, and returned home on Jan. 15. It is only three mutations away from the original Wuhan strain, according to work done early in the outbreak by Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutch, a medical research center in Seattle.

On the East Coast there are several strains, including the one from Washington and others that appear to have made their way from China to Europe and then to New York and beyond, Chiu said.

… COVID-19 hits people differently, with some feeling only slightly under the weather for a day, others flat on their backs sick for two weeks and about 15% hospitalized. Currently, an estimated 1% of those infected die. The rate varies greatly by country and experts say it is likely tied to testing rates rather than actual mortality.

Chiu says it appears unlikely the differences are related to people being infected with different strains of the virus.

“The current virus strains are still fundamentally very similar to each other,” he said.

The COVID-19 virus does not mutate very fast. It does so eight to 10 times more slowly than the influenza virus, said Anderson, making its evolution rate similar to other coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

It’s also not expected to spontaneously evolve into a form more deadly than it already is to humans. The SARS-CoV-2 is so good at transmitting itself between human hosts, said Andersen, it is under no evolutionary pressure to evolve.

It Is Here; Be Responsible; Don’t Overreact and Make it Worse

Whether the virus was created and spread intentionally by networks of party operatives — or whether this entire fiasco happened by a long chain of accidents — the problem must be dealt with. Apart from individual responsibility and careful sanitation measures, we must decide what level of “social distancing” is appropriate for each region, country, province, and municipality.

We are trying to stave off and arrest a pandemic. Given what is being recommended, we think we need some second or third opinions. This pandemic, now that it has reached America, has taken 3,173 lives here. This, from a tested population of 164,359 cases. That’s a mortality rate of 1.9%. But immediately, questions must be asked. We record every case of death from the coronavirus, but we have no idea how many people have had the coronavirus. Clearly, there are more than 164,359 cases because not everyone has been tested. That would put the mortality rate at less than 1.9%. That rate could be far, far less. As Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya, professors of medicine at Stanford, have written, based on their model of over 6 million cases they believe exist: “That’s a mortality rate of 0.01%, assuming a two-week lag between infection and death. This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1%.”

Again, as we pointed have out before: Each death is a tragedy and horrible, but the chance of it is also very small, depending on if you contract the virus and what your age and underlying medical conditions are. Will the numbers be much bigger than our annual rate of flu deaths? Already this year we have lost 24,000 to the flu and expect that number to rise at least another 24,000, probably more. Coronavirus deaths at half the flu number would also be much smaller than our annual rate of opioid overdose deaths—46,802—or annual deaths due to motor vehicle crashes, 33,654. For none of these problems—some anthropogenic and due to acts of volition, some caused by nature—have we or do we change, literally, everything, from stay in shelter orders and travel bans to the shuttering of almost all retail and service businesses.

We have lost perspective. __

Safety in the Herd?

A Useful Look at Prospects for Immunity from Wuhan Coronavirus

Resolving the COVID-19 pandemic quickly hinges on a crucial factor: how well a person’s immune system remembers SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the disease, after an infection has resolved and the patient is back in good health.

Image Source
Two flu viruses can sometimes infect the same host cell. When they spill their contents into the cell, their genetic material can recombine, generating new hybrid viruses that are mixtures of their precursors. (Rebecca Senft, Science in the News)

This phenomenon, called immune memory, helps our bodies avoid reinfection by a bug we’ve had before and influences the potency of life-saving treatments and vaccines. By starving pathogens of hosts to infect, immune individuals cut off the chain of transmission, bolstering the health of the entire population.

… Even as the pandemic evolves, researchers are already looking ahead. Just as the response to this outbreak was informed by its predecessors, so too will COVID-19 teach us about what’s to come, Qiuhong Wang says. The entry of other coronavirus strains into our species “is inevitable.”

Herd immunity can be acquired by at least two means: widespread effective vaccinations, and large scale infection and recovery. A third method, passive immunity, only lasts as long as the person receives antibodies from another party.

Outlook for vaccines

The Mysterious Recombinant Virus is a Problem to be Solved

Two questions remain unanswered: in which organism did this recombination occur? (a bat, a pangolin or another species?) And above all, under what conditions did this recombination take place? __ Wuhan Coronavirus is a Recombinant Strain

The Wuhan coronavirus will be a hard lesson to learn. It is likely that its release was unintentional, although some of the subsequent spread was criminally negligent — if not criminally intentional. The costs will be high.

Nonetheless, because the original release of the virus was unintentional, this Chinese virus is not the one that will bring on the end of the world as we know it. If we learn our lessons well, the next one — the intentional one — may be much more survivable.

More: Numbers and causes of death in US

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